The Digital Anthropologist: Big Data vs Big Ideas

This article originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review’s Digital Content Supplement in 2014. Marketers and creatives have begun to think like machines when developing campaigns, say some industry experts. They’ve discarded the use of emotional nuances and socially-derived cues for a click-centric logic which places an emphasis on Big Data directives rather than storytelling. […]

This article originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review’s Digital Content Supplement in 2014.

Marketers and creatives have begun to think like machines when developing campaigns, say some industry experts. They’ve discarded the use of emotional nuances and socially-derived cues for a click-centric logic which places an emphasis on Big Data directives rather than storytelling. The industry’s struggle with engagement rates for traditional digital formats like banner ads is derived not only from short online attention spans, experts say, but also from a broader disconnect between the ad tech ecosystem and consumers. The experts’ advice? Get human, leave your ad tech silo and don’t be so lazy in developing strategy.

According to Droga the industry has become “lazy” – flush with cash and cynical about the value of creative inspiration- biding its time by unleashing an ocean of digital sameness rather than iconic branding moments.

“Anyone who’s ever failed to close a pop-up knows that advertising today is more about interruption and intrusion than compelling narratives or a good laugh,” wrote David Droga, the creative mind behind one of the industry’s most lauded agencies, Droga5.  “We don’t add value. If anything, we often take it away.” According to Droga, the industry has become “lazy” – flush with cash and cynical about the value of creative inspiration- biding its time by unleashing an ocean of digital sameness rather than iconic branding moments.

Not only have consumers become annoyed with elements of tracking and visually intrusive ad formats, said many industry figures interviewed in the writing of this article, but the ecosystem doesn’t seem to connect the phenomenon of consumer ad blindness with its own behavior. “We are facing lean times if we don’t clean this mess up,” said one ad tech executive off-the-record. “We have a good chunk of the ecosystem built around ads that fail most of the time and another chunk of the industry is supporting the companies serving the failing ads.”

Brands with high engagement rates online and powerful multi-screen campaigns focus on creative storytelling, according to Martini Media CEO Skip Brand.

The fact that the banner ad ecosystem is facing a crisis of engagement faces little debate, but why those ads are failing is something that “no one wants to talk about,” said the executive.

Brands with high engagement rates online and powerful multi-screen campaigns focus on creative storytelling, according to Martini Media CEO Skip Brand, an industry veteran whose company’s clients have included Microsoft, Visa and Ebay. Rather than a click-obsessed vision of media which sacrifices creative impact for traditional models of mass appeal, marketers ought to reexamine their overall strategy in terms of ROI goals. Playing it safe- connecting with the widest swath of consumers with oft-used methods and themes- might not be as beneficial to marketers’ bottom line in the long-term as creating a meaningful brand experience through high-impact content within the ad.

“It is not rocket science,” wrote Droga. “The best ads tell great stories.”

Yet storytelling – and the ever-shifting lines between great stories and forgettable ones- is digital marketing’s most difficult exercise. “A marketer’s challenge,” said Pam Hamlin, President of Arnold Worldwide Boston in an earlier interview, “is to embrace the rapid adoption (of new technologies) and consistently create relevant content that breaks through.” That emphasis on storytelling and groundbreaking creativity means that marketers and creatives must cede a bit of control- to each other.

“A marketer’s challenge,” said Pam Hamlin, President of Arnold Worldwide Boston in an earlier interview, “is to embrace the rapid adoption (of new technologies) and consistently create relevant content that breaks through.”

Creatives need to focus on brand directives rather than on showcasing their digital know-how. Marketers need to learn to trust creatives enough to allow them to infuse their campaigns with new ideas that have the potential to elevate their brands to new levels of social relevance. “It is critical that brands stay true to their core value,” Hamlin stated. “This is especially true for iconic brands. What they stand for, their DNA, remains the same as they evolve their marketing approach to stay relevant in new and innovative ways.”

The industry is slowly waking up to the wane of the old ways of marketing, according to some industry watchers and shifting towards a new model of engagement-focused, content-centric campaigning.

Nonetheless, creatives like Droga believe that the downward drag of a cash-obese, creativity-phobic ecosystem is winning- for now. Thinking along with the robots- that the bigger agency is always the best,  that the most clicks means the most engagement- hasn’t worked for the industry so far. Now, Droga and other analysts believe, new ideas and new methods of reaching consumers have the best chance of gaining legitimacy and making the industry relevant again.

So content is king again, but not just any content- relevant, engaging content that amplifies social and commercial connections across multiple platforms without interrupting users’ online experiences. That means content that is better than just a facsimile of native content- it is transformational content. That means content with enough weight to attract users’ attention on its own, without employing a Trompe L’oeil to fool readers into a (worthless) click.

“As the world moves to a user-centric one from a context centric one it will favor media companies and platforms that have multi-channel capabilities,” said Will Margiloff, CEO of Ignition One. ” That is, those platforms designed to deliver sequenced marketing messages (that are tailored) to the users’ world wherever they are.”  Those messages should be contextual but also truly engaging and respectful of users’ needs for real value in brand interactions, said Margiloff, whose firm is a leading digital marketing solutions brand.

“If we don’t change things this will be another 90’s bubble- only on a much, much bigger scale,” said the ad tech executive, who noted that his company would be taking steps to shift towards content publishing in the next year.

Follow Carla Rover on Twitter

 

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